In today's difficult economy, the big advice is "trim your gift list," "give homemade gifts." I've been doing that for years. The odd Christmas is the one where some fortunate few on my list get fancy storebought doodads. So for me the challenge is how to put a new twist on the same old stuff. That stuff being my homemade soaps and lotions. Okay, so maybe you don't want to do the soapmaking thing, but stay with me, because it's the twists that might give you some ideas. One of the things I do with all the milk from my cow, goats and sheep is make milk soaps. I also make lotion bars, lip balms and candles. This started for economic reasons, as well as a desire to eliminate unnecessary chemicals from my body and, of course, to "live off the land" (chuckle). There are also a number of small children in my extended family, with whom soap gifts do not make a big impression.
In past years I have frequently traded with other crafters at craft shows for handmade toys, clothes and other items I thought my dear ones would enjoy. This past year the gas loving pickup was not taken out any more than necessary, so this was not possible. Think, think, think, what to do for the little guys. I also make various sizes and shapes of bags filled with dry rice, that go in the microwave for a few minutes and can be used as a heating pad, or can go in the freezer to be used as an ice pack. They also make interesting toys. Think bean bags. So some of the little ones will be getting teddy bear or flower boo-boo bags. Dollar store mugs will be stuffed with candies and homemade hot chocolate mix, with mini marshmallows and a cinnamon stick. For the adults, they will be stuffed with homemade vanilla mocha latte mix and a cinnamon stick. A friend sent me a recipe for "dangerous chocolate cake," dangerous because it is mixed in a mug and microwaved for 5 minutes, meaning you're only 5 minutes away from evil calories any time of day or night. Some of these will go out to a chosen few.
My five year old has worked his way up from 25 piece jigsaw puzzles to 100-300 pieces. The dollar store had an abundant variety of these and so I thought, "Why not?" You're welcome, parents who will be inundated with all these tiny puzzle parts. But why not revive an old tradition – board games and jigsaw puzzles instead of TV and videos? Okay, so that part isn't homemade, but it's not expensive either.
A few other gifts in the works are photo books and specialty bath items. 10-25 picture photo books are available at the dollar store, and I have stacks of digital photos on CD. I prepay for photos to get them for less than 10 cents apiece and am assembling several of these for loved ones. Some may have captions, and some not. But I know the recipients will have fond memories when they pick them up and enjoy them. I make little cloth bags with ribbon ties for soap ends and lotion bar packaging. Some of these will be filled with milk bath, baking soda bath, and sugar face and body scrub (in sandwich bags). I may break down and do a few larger versions of these bags to hold all those jigsaw puzzle pieces...
To give all the recipes for the mixes I mentioned would take up too much space, but they can be easily googled. To give just a few: milk bath is just dry milk, baking soda is plain old baking soda. You can mix in some essential oils really well into the dry powder to make them smelly, or just leave them plain. The sugar scrub I would leave plain, and it's just plain sugar. You can also use brown sugar instead. As for the Vanilla Mocha Latte: 1 c. good instant coffee, 1 c. dry milk, 1 c. sugar (if desired), 1/2 c. cocoa, 2 T. vanilla flavor. Mix dry ingredients well. Add vanilla last and mix quickly so it doesn't clump all in one spot. Put 1/2-1 c. mix in a sandwich bag and close with a twist tie, attach a cinnamon stick and instructions: "Add 1-2 T. to 6 oz. boiling water, stir with cinnamon stick." Put in a dollar store mug, or an attractive box, basket or bag.
The good thing about most of these gifts is they don't even need additional wrapping. If you do want to wrap, a plain brown bag or the comic page of the newspaper tied with raffia makes an inexpensive and country style gift wrap. They also don't take any more time than what I would spend driving around and fighting the crowds at the stores. I can make them in the peace (or chaos) of my own home, on my own time, mostly with stuff I always have on hand. Happy gifting.